Mark Leach asks whether MPs have done enough to save the HE specialist civil servants in BIS Sheffield which the government is now planning to close.
As longstanding higher education and science minister David Willetts steps down from his government post, and from politics in general, Andy Westwood looks back at his time with the brief – from 2005 when in opposition to today. What will be his legacy? Is it too soon to judge? With mixed feelings in the sector, the ultimate legacy of David Willetts may take quite some time to fully understand. In the mean time, there’s much to learn from the last nine years with David Willetts.
They finally arrived yesterday. BIS published both the HEFCE grant letter and the SFA’s Skills Funding Statement. One was 6 pages and the other 60 but they both delivered roughly the same amount of cash to the FE and HE sectors. They also delivered more or less what had been set out in the Autumn Statement – i.e. some quite significant cuts to both sectors but not too much more on top of what George Osborne delivered in December. Andy Westwood gives some early thoughts on the letters and the scramble over funding that will come.
This morning David Willetts took the airwaves to float the idea of ‘off-quota’ places at university. Not a new idea by any means, but an interesting indication of the direction of travel for the HE White Paper which most now expect in the first half of June. On the one hand, there is a sound political argument for leaking out policy initiatives in this way; it can have the effect of softening up the ground for when the big one drops later on.
But David Willetts has underestimated the toxicity of a policy like this which touches a very raw nerve indeed. Still wounded by the fees and funding settlement, this policy will feel like a kick in the teeth to those still clinging on to the idea that access to HE should never depend on the ability to pay. The ‘free at the point of use’ principle, still hanging on by its finger-nails, ensured that there was always going to be the greatest strength of feeling against the deep cuts to the teaching grant. The ensuing high fees for many felt like the sad, but necessary consequence of this – softened by continued commitment not to charge up-front fees.
BIS have today published a flyer and FAQ sheet about the new fees system. But it’s too little, too late. Their failure to communicate adequately through the policy quagmire they have created will have lasting repercussions.
Both Oxford and Cambridge have let it be known this week that they intend to charge the maximum £9000 fee. Absolutely no one is surprised by this news.
However the details about the new access requirements that will come with fees will be announced later this week and Oxbridge have taken a gamble that their measures (such as Cambridge’s ‘discount’ for the poorest students) will more than meet the new regulatory requirements.